The car industry seems to have convinced itself – understandably enough, from their perspective – that the solution to transport in urban areas is simply to convert existing private motor vehicles to run on electricity, rather than combustion engines.
The latest evidence of this belief comes from Renault UK, who appear to be arguing that electric cars should be allowed in bus lanes.
Leading cities should do more to encourage the use of electric cars by investing in charging facilities and allowing zero emission vehicles to use bus lanes, says the head of Renault UK. Kenneth Ramirez said that it was important to create a “wave of acceptance” around electric vehicle technology to encourage their uptake, calling on London Mayor Boris Johnson to follow Norway in allowing electric cars to use lanes reserved for public transport.
He told RTCC: “In London that would be an interesting approach. In other cities having legislation that requires new buildings have a dedicated number of parking spaces with charge stations already included.”
But bus lanes don’t exist to encourage the ‘uptake’ of electric cars. They exist to relieve congestion, and to make more space-efficient modes of transport viable. Flooding bus lanes with electric cars would render them redundant, because buses would become mired in the same congestion that necessitated their implementation in the first place.
This is all part of a wider pattern of failing to address the problem of excess car use in urban areas, and for short trips. Electric cars only deal with one particular issue – tailpipe emissions.
- they don’t reduce congestion;
- they don’t reduce road danger;
- they don’t provide independence and mobility for those who cannot drive, or who choose not to;
- while they can improve local air quality, they don’t solve other public health problems;
- they don’t make urban areas more attractive and pleasant places.
Motor vehicle manufacturers would like to imagine that the only issue that matters is carbon emissions. Or – more specifically – reducing carbon emissions from private transport, because unless electric cars are charged from power provided by renewable energy, the emissions are simply displaced elsewhere.
They do this by pretending that demand for driving is fixed, and not created by the physical environment – by the way our roads and streets are laid out. A classic example of this kind of thinking is a piece by Paul Everitt, CEO of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, in the Times, a few years ago. He wrote (£) –
From its invention, the car has provided an unquestionable level of personal mobility, giving people the freedom to travel where they like, when they like. For many, owning a car is no longer a luxury but a necessity that allows them to commute to work, take the kids to school and do the weekly shop. There is, and always will be, an important role for the car. But in a low-carbon future, the car will have to be cleaner and greener than ever before…
… As the global demand for cars increases it is essential that we retain and grow our share of the market. Designing, developing and manufacturing the technologies and vehicles of tomorrow is our route to a more sustainable future.
Well, not really. Electric cars are still a very inefficient use of resources and energy, and don’t address the myriad other problems caused by excess private car use. If we are truly aiming at a ‘sustainable future’, we need to be shifting a good proportion of the 40% or so of trips of under 2 miles that are made by private car in Britain to genuinely sustainable modes.
While there is a sensible case to be made for powering motor vehicles with better energy sources, the motor industry should not be allowed to pretend that this is the end of the issue. It’s not just the clogging of bus lanes that is counterproductive; it’s clogging our urban areas as a whole with the inefficient private car that is destructive and wasteful. That means we need space for cycling, not a continuation of the same patterns of designing for private motor vehicle use, however it is powered.